COLUMBIA — Her teammates are long gone, but Taylor Grant still has work to do.
The Missouri junior midfielder and forward stays after most 6 a.m. practices to perform shooting drills, a habit that has helped her become a dangerous threat for the Tigers this season.
Missouri (5-4, 1-0) vs. Georgia (8-1, 1-0)
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Missouri vs. Florida (7-1-1, 1-0)
When: 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU)
After a 2012 campaign in which she went scoreless, Grant is the team's co-leader with 10 points. Getting two points for a goal and one point for an assist, Grant has her 10 points thanks to four goals and two assists after nine games.
“I came in knowing that I needed to score early in the season, so I think that’s helped,” Grant said.
The Missouri women's soccer team hosts its first Southeastern Conference game of the season Friday. The Tigers play the Georgia Bulldogs at 6:30 p.m. Friday, and they follow that with a nationally-televised home game against Florida at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Missouri enters the weekend ranked No. 24 in the BennettRank poll for collegiate soccer. Florida is ranked No. 7, and Georgia is ranked No. 37.
Grant's scoring success is part of why Missouri has national acclaim.
She believes her quick start is a testament to her shooting practice as well as the larger role coach Bryan Blitz and the rest of the coaching staff have given her this season.
“He (Blitz) has me playing different forward positions, so center and outside," she said. "As I get older, he (Blitz) wants me to lead more stuff, so I think I’m doing pretty good getting used to that.”
Blitz says Grant’s larger role is nothing specific but rather the result of a reenergized player who is giving more effort.
“She’s refocused and recommitted and just more confident,” Blitz said. “That came from going through some tough times, not maybe producing like she knew she could. That happens to every athlete going through, no matter what sport. That’s the beauty of the struggle is that it’ll make you better.”
Despite her goal-scoring woes, Grant chose to keep a positive outlook throughout the experience.
“It didn’t really bother me," Grant said. "I think I knew that I could score a goal. I was just having bad luck. I just started focusing more on ‘Alright, don’t shoot. You can be an assister and press. You can get the ball through to other people.’”
Grant played every game and started 14 of the 22 games. She contributed two assists.
Though she told herself not to shoot, the temptation was too strong. Grant took 45 shots, 12 more than the team’s leading goal-scorer, Alyssa Diggs. This willingness to test her luck on goal incited some friendly jabs from Grant’s teammates.
“It was kind of like a joke. It kind of became humorous to everyone,” she said. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t shooting or had bad shots, it was just I couldn’t get it in the net.”
“Every time I hit the post, you just had to laugh about it,” she said. “It wasn’t even just in games. In practice, I would hit the post, and everybody would be like, ‘Seriously, Taylor.’”
Grant wasted no time ending her drought this season, scoring two goals in Missouri’s season-opening 5-1 win at home against Pacific. After her first goal, the forward remembers looking at one of her teammates and saying, “Finally.”
“Once you get one, the other ones just start coming,” Grant said. “I just had to get that one in, and once I got it, it was kind of like a sigh of relief.”
Grant hopes the goals will keep coming.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.